Was Nazi Germany fascist

ItalyBlind spots in dealing with fascism

Around one hundred people gather in Predappio, a city in the northern Italian province of Emilia-Romagna - and the birthplace of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Many of those present are dressed in black, some of them in uniform. They have come to commemorate their 'Duce' - in front of his family grave. A reporter for the Italian daily "La Repubblica" filmed the meeting in July 2019.

"Camerato Benito Mussolini! Presidente!"

You describe yourself as fascists and fascist nostalgics. Some of them raise their right arm in a Roman greeting - a fascist symbol that is forbidden in Italy.

Such gatherings of fascists in Predappio can be observed not only on Mussolini's birthday. They also usually meet annually on the anniversary of his death on April 28th. However, due to the corona protective measures, the memorial event for this year was officially canceled.

(AP) Scientific and cultural institutes under Mussolini
Mussolini wanted to promote Italy's science and culture. Nevertheless, the numerous institutes were never completely ideologically permeated.

The Italian historian Carlo Gentile sees the following reason for the ongoing Mussolini cult:

"This wish for a supposedly whole world - it is very common and leads to the fact that one takes refuge in such dreams: 'Everything was better in the past'". "

Gentile teaches at the University of Cologne and deals, among other things, with fascist Italy. Mussolini supporters are nostalgic as well as politically convinced, he says.

According to Gentile, the fact that a public cult around Benito Mussolini even exists is related to the fragmentary reappraisal of fascism in Italy:

"Much has been dealt with in a very particular way, so that subcultures have developed. In contrast to Germany, where the succession of generations means that the historical image, the rejection of the National Socialist past, finds more and more consensus."

The shooting of Mussolini by resistance fighters during the Second World War was an act of reckoning with fascism. However, there was hardly any detailed institutional review, as Gentile confirms.

At the beginning: "Mussolini was very far to the left"

It is also clear among many international historians that Mussolini was the first fascist in Europe to influence authoritarian and totalitarian states such as Nazi Germany with his regime in the 20th century. The starting point for his fascism, however, was a left politicization after his birth in 1883:

"Mussolini was very far to the left. He belonged to the revolutionary wing of the Socialist Party."

Hans Woller, Munich historian and author of a Mussolini biography. Even on the left, the later dictator was referred to as "Duce" - as a leader.

Mussolini adopted the goal of a revolution in constitutionally monarchical Italy from Karl Marx. He saw the First World War as helpful, as Woller describes:

"He absolutely wanted Italy to enter the war, because he saw the war as a kind of fire accelerator for the revolution. And then there was a break with the socialists. The socialists put the chair in front of the door for him."

(imago stock & people / United Archives International) Italy's uncritical handling of the art of fascism
Following the German model, cultural activity was also to be standardized in Italy. The history of the award is now being traced in an astonishingly uncritical exhibition.

Mussolini fought in the First World War. After being deposed by the socialists, he was left with his newspaper "Il Popolo d’Italia", which, according to Woller, he could only finance with money from right-wing circles, and his revolutionary ideas.

He became a nationalist and approached the "fasci di combattimento" - right-wing associations of Italian combatants. They called for an authoritarian government and a revision of the Versailles peace treaties - in favor of Italy.

Hans Woller says: "They were wild, ultimately determined guys with no scruples. They were the squadrists or the black shirts. They were the most important political capital for Mussolini, and Mussolini used this capital."

Used to implement the authoritarian and nationalist demands of the black shirts and his own: They wanted to direct the state, help their fatherland to glory and protect it internally against left-wing forces.

After the First World War, northern Italy found itself in the class struggle and in socialist mass strikes. In order to increase his domestic political influence, Mussolini also sought proximity to large industrialists and agrarians in the fight against revolting workers.

In 1921 a party was formed from the fascist combat units, the Partito Nazionale Fascista, Mussolini was one of its leaders.

The march on Rome did not take place

The fascists spread in northern Italy, Mussolini used them as a means of blackmail: If he did not get power, there would be a military march on Rome. When he mobilized his troops on October 27, 1922, King Victor Emmanuel III buckled. a: He called Mussolini Prime Minister - and passed over parliament. As a result, the fascists did not march through the capital.

As Prime Minister, Mussolini retained the monarchy and parliament institutionally, but created a new state body, the so-called Fascist Grand Council. With this he presented a blueprint for authoritarian states in and partly outside Europe, explains Marco Tarchi, political scientist at the University of Florence.

"Italian fascism was certainly the only model until the early 1930s, also in political education."

In a European comparison of right-wing extremist forces, one thing is surprising:

"No ideology theory was ever formulated on Italian fascism."

Tarchi emphasizes the nation, which strives for higher, as an ideological characteristic. The historian Woller explains:

"It was about a kind of anthropological revolution for Mussolini and the fascists, which was not aimed solely at Italy, but related to the Aryan race, which was threatened in the eyes of Mussolini and the fascists."

The Munich historian also names the following characteristics: imperialism and territorial expansion as well as racism and anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, it is not a coherent ideology, says Carlo Gentile, who conducts research in Cologne:

"It is also typical of this type of political movement that they look for elements according to their taste - and especially those elements that they believe would bring the greatest possible consensus."

Mussolini's anti-Semitism

Gentile sees Mussolini's anti-Semitism primarily as a sign of opportunism - hatred of Jews was anchored in many European societies, so he simply picked it up.

"There is no doubt that Mussolini was also anti-Semitic to a certain extent. But that was of little interest to him until the 1930s."

Until racial laws were passed in Nazi Germany and Mussolini was also looking for an enemy inside the state to further mobilize his supporters.

Race laws were also introduced in Italy in 1938. According to Hans Woller, Mussolini was initially not concerned with the extermination but with the expulsion of Jews. However, Mussolini bears responsibility for the murder of Jews, as Gentile points out: from 1943, around 10,000 Jews were arrested and deported in Italy, most of them died in concentration camps, such as in Auschwitz, as he emphasizes.

(picture alliance / dpa / imageBROKER) How Mussolini would have liked to be seen
Researchers have rediscovered and reconstructed a message from the former Italian dictator to posterity in the Mussolini Obelisk in Rome.

Especially in comparison to German National Socialism, historians have noticed how ideologically flexible Italian fascism was - and how open Mussolini's image of the enemy was. Political scientist Marco Tarchi recognized two factors as the reason:

"In Italy there was an authoritarian regime due to the presence of the monarchy and the Catholic Church, while in Germany a totalitarian regime was built."

What, however, did not damage the "Rome-Berlin Axis", which Mussolini emphasized in his 1937 speech at the Berlin Olympic Stadium:

"The visit that I am making to Germany and its Führer, the speech that I am now giving you, represent an important point in the life of both of our peoples!"

According to Gentile, the Rome-Berlin alliance was based on a drive for power and ideas of expansion:

"To revise the legacy of World War I, to revise the status quo. You felt cheated of your victory after World War I. You hadn't gotten many of the areas you claimed, and you didn't get a fair share of sight of the Italian nationalists in the colonies. "

"Mussolini needed Hitler to be able to enforce his imperial ambitions," adds Hans Woller: "In the course of time, there were also increasing kinship feelings of an ideological nature with regard to the creation of a racist, homogeneous national community, with regard to violence. And that is the decisive kinship feeling: in relation to expansion and territorial gain. "

Italy's entry into the war

The axis became so strong by 1940 that Italy followed Germany into World War II. Benito Mussolini announced the decision on June 10, 1940 on the balcony of the Palazzo Venezia in Rome to a cheering people - and declared war on France and Great Britain:

However, Italy was not at all prepared for a war, emphasize the researchers Gentile and Woller: Not only were the armaments companies too cumbersome - armaments expenditure in the following years even declined.

Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini forged the Rome-Berlin axis together (picture-alliance / dpa / LaPresse Archivio Storico)

With the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, Mussolini lost all hold in domestic politics - the fascist Grand Council deposed him as prime minister, and the king then had him arrested. Ultimately, a sports hotel in the Gran Sasso mountains in central Italy was considered a safe place of detention. But there parachute troops of the Nazis were able to free Mussolini. At the direction of Adolf Hitler, Mussolini took over the leadership of an "Italian Social Republic" on Lake Garda, also called the Republic of Salò, which was supposed to secure power for him at least in northern and central Italy.

The Allies advanced from the south, but the Germans did not stop them. Mussolini tried to flee, but the resistance fighters caught him on April 28, 1945 and hung him up with other fascists in Piazzale Loreto in Milan.

The historian Carlo Gentile justifies the fact that the chapter of fascism was essentially closed with the paralyzed political system and political continuity: too many officials who were involved in crimes had a function even after the war. Also:

"... on the other hand, after 1943-45, through the fight of the Resistance, there was an awareness that Italy had liberated itself and thus did a completely different job compared to Germany."

Processing of fascism in the form of the constitution

There was no real public, critical debate about the crimes of Italian fascism. The result:

"There is no uniform historical picture in Italy, especially with regard to the fascist past."

In formal legal terms, fascism was dealt with in the form of the constitution: it forbids, for example, the re-establishment of Mussolini's fascist party. Further laws against the glorification of fascism exist since 1952 and 1993. They prohibit fascist gestures, actions and slogans. However, fascism expert Anna Foa admits:

"There are laws against the glorification of fascism and racism. But they are rarely applied, only in very rare cases."

The retired historian from La Sapienza University in Rome suspects:

"Fascist aggression, violence, and especially the threat from the Internet, are seen as folkloric, not dangerous, phenomena."

The political scientist Tarchi also ascribes little importance to such fascist groups in Italian society. He suspects that cracking down on them is not advisable:

"Dissolving them creates a kind of victimization, one would probably risk thereby promoting more or less violent or terrorist groups."

(Deutschlandradio / Jan-Christoph Kitzler) Mussolini cult in Italy
The thorough historical reappraisal of the crimes of the fascist regime did not begin in Italy until the 1990s - and is still pending in many areas and regions.

German and Italian war crimes in Italy have hardly been dealt with legally, says Anna Foa:

"There was no full reappraisal in Italy of what fascism was, what its faults were. Fascism was not just a negative phenomenon due to the war and the racial laws."

This also applies to Italian war crimes abroad, for example in Greece and today's Ethiopia. Hans Woller:

"So there are an infinite number of blind spots in the history of the Italians, and in these blind spots, of course, many, many legends about Mussolini could settle and hold."

Which in turn can favor a trivialization of fascism: For example, that Italy had become a great power under the dictator or that it took on the form of a welfare state for the first time.

It was and is leading Italian politicians at home and abroad who contributed to such trivializations. Silvio Berlusconi took the Alleanza Nazionale party - a renamed neo-fascist party from the post-war period with a fascist symbol in the party logo - into his first government in 1995. Political scientist Marco Tarchi recalls the controversies that sparked.

"The later history of the Alleanza Nazionale has shown that the trivialization of the fascist and then neo-fascist experience first came from within. So Berlusconi saw the chance to ally with this political force, because until then they had every attempt to find an authoritarian regime or to build something like that, largely abandoned. "

Rhetoric that is still played down today

A downplaying of rhetoric can also be observed - by Berlusconi or, most recently, by his party colleague Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament until July 2019. In March 2019, he said in a radio interview on the private broadcaster Radio24 that Mussolini had also done good deeds:

"Until he declared war on the whole world and followed Hitler, until he passed the race laws, he did good things too."

... building roads, bridges and sports facilities, for example. After criticism from the European Parliament, Tajani defended himself on Twitter, highlighted fascism as the darkest chapter in Italian history, and saw his statements manipulated.

A few weeks later, shortly before the 2019 European elections, the right-wing extremist politician Matteo Salvini also made a very clear statement in his election campaign: He gave a speech on the balcony in the small town of Forlì that Mussolini had last entered for political speeches.

The historian Woller initially recognizes that politicians like Berlusconi and Salvini have little interest in history. In his opinion, they mainly use fascist symbols to win votes on the far right. However, he warns:

"To designate them as fascists or to place them in the fascist continuity, that would be completely exaggerated, and that would ultimately amount to a trivialization of fascism."

For their popularity, the causes and problems of the present must be considered.

According to Anna Foa, the only thing that helps against belittling through rhetoric is:

"To remember that the dictatorship is something absolutely negative. Fighting that democracy respects the other. And this must be known and applied in every respect."